7 Popular Audio File Formats

Popular Audio File Formats You Need To Know About

There are different types of audio formats that you can choose from and you likely want to know which are the most popular audio file formats. Sometimes it can be challenging to choose the best audio format for professional needs or just for casual uses. There are three broad categories of audio formats that are uncompressed, lossy, and lossless audio formats. Read On to learn about each one.


The Three Broad Categories of Audio Formats

  1. FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) – The Best?
  2. MP3 (MPEG Audio Layer 3) – Most Popular File Format?
  3. WMA (Windows Media Audio)
  4. WAV (Waveform Audio File Format) – The Most Popular (also)?
  5. AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) – The Best (also)?
  6. AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format)
  7. Ogg Vorbis (What is Ogg Vorbis?!)

The Three Broad Categories of Audio Formats

The uncompressed audio category is mostly used for professional uses and they have large files. These formats have a bit depth of 16 bits and a sampling rate of 44.1kHz. Because they are uncompressed, they represent the accurate masterpiece.

The lossless audio category compartmentalizes data that has been repeated and provides instructions for the recreation of this data during playback. This format takes less space than the uncompressed audio format because they are 70% smaller but they still provide good quality of the audio file. A zip file is an example of a lossless audio file which when unzipped, files still contain their original size and quality.

Let’s say you were going to digitize vinyls to a digital audio file format. Which Audio File Format is best for you? Well, it depends on your needs.

The third type of audio file category is the lossy type. Lossy audio files are compressed by deleting information that cannot be perceived by most listeners. This category does not provide the best audio quality and can be useful in areas where the speed of the audio is the only important factor. The quality of lossy audio files varies from uncompressed files to highly compressed files. This article will take you through some audio file formats that you should know about. We’ll aim to answer the question which audio format is best and which is most popular!

1. FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) – The Best?

What is FLAC? FLAC provides higher quality audio files than any other audio format. It falls under the lossless audio file category and it can reduce the audio files by 70%.

It can reduce files that are as big as 32 bits and with a sampling rate of up to 192 kHz. The FLAC audio format can be used in different operating systems without being converted and you can use it to send lossless audio files.

Some would argue that this combination of reduced file size, high quality and inter-operability make it the best audio format. There are several other audio formats to consider when deciding which is the best for your needs.

MP3 is the most popular Audio file format and it also falls under the lossy category. Some people even refer to every audio file as an MP3 even when they are an MP3. The MP3 audio file format is versatile and you have likely listened to a couple of MP3 audio files. Another factor that makes MP3 popular is because it is playable in different software, operating systems, and platforms like YouTube.

In fact, it is possible to download YouTube videos as MP3 files. Websites like vidd.ly/convert-youtube-to-mp3 can help you convert a YouTube video to an MP3 file. However, significant information can be lost when MP3 files are being formatted and there has been the discovery of newer types of lossy files that retain more information.

3. WMA (Windows Media Audio)

WMA is a product of Microsoft that has been developed for use on the Windows operating system. There are two categories of WMA audio files, that is, lossy and lossless categories. The compression algorithm used in lossless WMA audio files takes a larger space than other lossless formats.

The WMA lossless format is specifically made for windows and therefore if you are using another operating system like iOS, you may be unable to play these files on your device unless they are converted.

WAV is the most popular type of uncompressed audio file format and it is the most preferred format for mixing, recording, and even recording audio files.

There is no major limitation in the bit depth and sampling rate that you can reach when using the WAV audio file format. Because it is the best audio file format, the major streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music support this format, and sometimes they may demand audio files to be in the WAV format.

WAV audio file format is your best bet if you are looking for the best quality audio file format. However, you need to have a large or extended space in your machine when using this format because it does not spare space.

5. AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) – The Best?

AAC is an audio file format that is in the lossy category which means that some information has been deleted. This format will be useful when you want to send small compressed files. This is currently the best audio format under the lossy audio file category but it is not yet as popular as the MP3.

The AAC audio file format uses a sophisticated compression algorithm and therefore more relevant information is spared when the file is being compressed.

6. AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format)

What is AIFF? AIFF is a type of uncompressed audio file format that can take files of large size. This format preserves all information and is used in Apple software.

This format is used for professional work by mixing engineers because it contains the best quality audio files in the world. However, the AIFF format is not as popular as the WMA even if it can also play on the Windows operating systems.

Most people are not familiar with the AIFF audio file format because it was originally made for Apple devices only and in the past, most people used Windows (PC) more than iOS (MacBook).

7. Ogg Vorbis (What is Ogg Vorbis?!)

Listening to which audio file format suits you? And what is Ogg Vorbis anyway?!

What is Ogg Vorbis? Ogg Vorbis is a type of lossy file which means that some information may be lost when compressing the file.

However, this format is unique because it is not associated with major operating systems and it is well designed therefore you can get good audio quality on the audio files.

The OGG Vorbis file format is also not supported by most devices and it requires software extensions for it to play on some devices. Therefore this format is not preferred by most mix engineers.

In summary, there are different types of audio file formats and each has its benefits and drawbacks. Audio files are classified into three broad categories that are the uncompressed, lossless, and lossy audio files. Uncompressed files are large and of high quality and therefore they are the most preferred audio formats. They include the WAV, AIFF, and DSD formats. Lossless audio files on the other hand compartmentalize and recreate data that has been repeated and redundant and therefore can be up to 70% smaller than uncompressed files. 

Lossless audio files include FLAC and ALAC audio files. Lossy audio files refer to audio files that remove information that cannot be perceived by listeners. They may have poor quality audio and they include MP3, AAC, and Ogg  Vorbis. Now you know about the 7 popular audio file formats and which is the best audio format for your needs.

About The Author


Jeff (Surname withheld for family privacy) is an engineer with over 26 years experience. He first learned to program in Fortran 77! See the 'About Us' for more.

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